Could early votes be used as reliable data for the General Election?

Author: OpenClipart-Vectors

Early voting, be it by mail or in-person, is rolling in some states, and 2 million Americans already cast their ballot in 18 different states. With others starting to send ballots later in October.

This is 10 times higher than this time in 2016, according to Jacob Soboroff.

Those high numbers early on, are mainly due to two factors:

  1. The pandemic has raised concerns about the safety of voters and the high risk of virus transmission at polling stations. If voters have the choice to vote by mail, or early in-person, they may take that opportunity to do so.
  2. This prompted a change in state laws. 27 states made some changes in order to facilitate early voting to allow their citizens to cast an absentee ballot using COVID-19 as a valid excuse.

Some states, such as California (which has more than 20 million registered voters), will even send the ballot whether you asked for it or not.

In 2016, the only state that started tracking early was North Carolina, with less than 10,000 early voters.

For this election, Wisconsin has already seen one in three ballots returned compared to 2016.

Numbers in Virginia are also high, more than 420,000, with the most at the moment.

Those numbers point to a record in early voting (be it by mail or in-person) and some states haven’t started with early voting.

And as we get nearer 3 November, more people may end up opting for voting by mail or early in-person, and not during the day of the election.

Those numbers are already raising some doubts on the possibility of being able to count all the early votes on Election Day.

That’s due to the fact that some states don’t allow mail-in ballots to be counted before Election Day, or only a few days earlier.

But with such influx of early votes, couldn’t it be possible to have an idea on where the balance will go on battleground states for example?

Some states do count the registered ballots according to a party affiliation. This is the case of North Carolina for example, with already more than 300,000 ballots returned and accepted.

Trump won in 2016 with a margin of +3.7

As you can see from the chart, in 2016 there were 700,000 more Democrats who asked for an absentee ballot, but the difference reduced to only 300,000 when we take into account the ones who actually voted this way.

For this election, we already have some differences noticeable as of today, with twice as many Democrats asking for a ballot compared to Republicans.

Even if the numbers don’t necessarily mean that they voted for their party of affiliation, it is unlikely to believe that a high percentage decided to vote for a candidate of another party.

And if in 2016 Hillary Clinton received more votes through absentee ballots, in the end, it was Donald Trump who won North Carolina, but by only 180,000 votes.

With such a low difference, the early voters may help draw a better picture of what to expect in battleground states for 2020.

That doesn’t mean we have to use it as a precise indicator of the outcome, but more as a prediction tool, similar to polls.

The closer we get from the actual day, the better we’ll know the difference and how each party did before the big day.

And given the numbers we’re already seeing, is it fair to think that this data could be used somehow to inform the readers?

If you are a US citizen but still don’t know how to register to vote, and you don’t know when is the deadline to do so in your state, look it up before it’s too late.

Data Journalist, with an interest in news about Climate/Energy and Politics mostly.